TUESDAY, March 25, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Your neighborhood may have a major influence on how much you exercise, according to a study that looked at data on 8,782 people in 373 Chicago neighborhoods.
The researchers found that people who live in neighborhoods with higher levels of poverty, lower levels of education, and more families headed by women are less likely than others to exercise. But this doesn't mean that poorer people are least likely to exercise, said the researchers, who found that individual income wasn't as important as neighborhood in determining exercise levels.
"We can't encourage people to exercise more without looking at the neighborhood environment in which they live," study co-author Christopher Browning, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, said in a prepared statement. "Some people may have the personal resources and desire to exercise but don't live in a neighborhood in which they feel comfortable to go outside for activities."
Neighborhood-related factors that influenced exercise levels included: amount of trust among neighbors, perceived violence in the community, and beliefs that neighbors help each other. The study also found that neighborhood was more important for women than men in determining exercise levels.
Overall, the findings suggested that a wide variety of social and economic factors outside of a person's control can have an impact on physical activity, Browning said.
The study was published in a recent issue of Urban Studies.
The finding that neighborhood characteristics are more important than a person's income in determining exercise levels was surprising and noteworthy, Browning said.
"The result is surprising enough that it needs to be confirmed by other studies. But if the finding is substantiated, it would show just how important neighborhoods are, and would have important implications for any new initiatives aimed at enhancing health and well-being," he said.
The fact that the neighborhood/exercise connection is stronger in women than in men is another important finding.
"This could help understand why African-American women have much higher obesity rates than other groups," Browning said.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.